COVID-19: Liberian President George Weah has said he will partially lift restrictions on praying in mosques and churches aimed at curbing coronavirus while extending a lockdown in the capital Monrovia.
In a statement on Friday, the former international footballer said emergency measures announced in April would be extended for two weeks in the West African nation.
These include a ban on all movement between the country’s 15 counties, the closure of non-essential businesses, and stay-at-home orders for Monrovia’s roughly one million inhabitants.
Recall the shut down process for the west african country was further extended on Friday, April 24, when President George Weah announced that Liberia’s stay-at-home measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be extended by a further two weeks through until Friday, May 8.
Foreign travelers were prohibited from entering Liberia and the country’s land borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire remain closed although essential good transportation still operates. Schools, universities, and places of worship remain shut.
Authorities have also urged people to minimize travel within Liberia, avoid large gatherings, and observe good personal hygiene.
As of Friday, April 24, there were 101 confirmed COVID-19 cases and eight related deaths nationwide. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide.
Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic.
The measures was put in place on April 11, and included the compulsory wearing of face masks in public. Among other restrictions remaining in effect are a daily curfew at 15:00 (local time), a ban on movement between counties, and the closure of all non-essential businesses.
On Friday, April 17, authorities announced the extension of the state of emergency, originally slated for 21 days, for an additional 39 days until Tuesday, May 26.
Confusion reigned across much of Monrovia, a city of more than 1 million people, with many having heard, erroneously, via social media that the government had ordered a 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew rather than a full lockdown.
Many residents had voiced anger in the run-up to the lockdown ordered by President George Weah, which they said would do more harm than good in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty.
“Corona is not going to kill many people. It is hunger that will kill many Liberians,” said Jettroy Kolleh, a student, as he stood on Thursday outside a bank in Monrovia, where dozens of people had queued in close proximity to withdraw money.
The lockdown is a test of the Liberian authorities’ vows to improve on their handling of a quarantine of a Monrovia slum during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, which sparked riots by residents lacking food and water.
Liberia has so far confirmed at least 48 cases of the coronavirus, including five deaths.
Reuters TV footage from Saturday showed police patrolling in riot gear and pursuing people with truncheons. At the Red Light market, one of the city’s busiest, an excavator truck destroyed informal market stalls, where people had earlier congregated.
“We must understand the plight of our citizens and work with them constructively in ensuring that they can obey the stay-home order,” said Moses Carter, a police spokesman.
Also read how Ebola contact tracing lessons inform COVID-19 response in Liberia
“However, there are people who are very recalcitrant. Those people who will blatantly challenge our joint security officers will be dealt with robustly,” he said.
Roland Weah, the commissioner of the West Point neighbourhood, where police opened fire during the Ebola outbreak to enforce a quarantine, said authorities were working closely with communities to avoid a repeat.
“We have put into place measures to ensure there is not a recurrence of that situation,” he said. “We are working as a community … providing information that corona is here, (applying) all health protocols announced by the ministry of health.”
But President Weah said he would allow churches to resume services from May 17, and mosques from May 15, provided that they run at 25-percent capacity to allow for social distancing.
Liberian authorities have recorded 199 cases of the coronavirus to date, with 20 fatalities.
As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill prepared to handle a large outbreak.
The nation of some 4.8 million people was badly hit during West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in the country.